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Living Between Two Mountains

How should this professor live in healthy rhythms between tensing desires of faith and learning? by Dr. Robert L. Gallagher, Chair of Intercultural Studies


I live in the uncomfortable tension between two mountains, and at times I am not sure of the right way to cope. This summer our Intercultural Studies graduate department moved to a new location at the Billy Graham Center, and I landed in an office with a window that overlooks Blanchard Hall on the mount, an icon of North American evangelicalism. And sitting in my office chair I can also look through a window into the corridor and see an enormous photo of a monk from Mount Carmel near Haifa, who took a 30-year vow of silence. Daily I walk between these two appealing and opposing mounts: monastic silence in communion with God, and the noise and bustle of evangelical learning. I long for a slower and quieter pace of life amid the bath of actuality: joyous study, writing, and teaching. How do I maintain a healthy rhythm of living between these two mountains of desire? Where does my help come from to adopt healthy rhythms with layers of work, family, prayer, solitude, and play, all wrapped in an awareness of fulfillment in life?

Contemporary western society is so often identified with furious activism and optimistic reason at the neglect of simply living: to feel, sense, taste the blessings of life all around us through nature and humanity. We deafen ourselves with pursuits and ideologies, and miss the reality that God desires to speak in the midst of growing isolation and loneliness. Our culture is more detached from one another than ever before through longer working hours and distances to commute, resulting in less availability for human connections. With sips of interaction we spend more and more time alone together.

Jesus also was flanked by these two mountains of spiritual intimacy and activity-oriented encounters. After hearing of John’s execution in Matthew 14, Jesus left his followers to be alone, only to be intercepted by a huge crowd. Then with compassion he taught, healed, and fed the people before he sent them away and continued his journey. Following this intensity of ministry, Jesus insisted that his disciples leave him and “sent the people home”—for a time he turned his back on human needs to go “up into the hills by himself to pray.”

What I enjoy most is a contemplative life—not in the sense of an intense spirituality of a 30-year vow of silence, but in my everyday existence. For me it is a bubbling pleasure to read, think, and write; to walk through Buswell Library between aisles of learning. I have contentment with my family and friends, and peace at home. Yet I have endeavors of work and ministry, responsibility and decisions, being everywhere and doing everything that drown my good intentions.

What to do?

“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?” asks the psalmist. “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!” (Ps. 121:1-2, NLT). Occasions come when we need to detach, to push away the ruckus that sometimes buries us in petty details and encumbers our hearts, and turn our face toward God to seek perspective and renovation. It is in him that our salvation lies.

Dr. Robert Gallagher (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is department chair, director of the M.A. program in intercultural studies, and associate professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, where he has taught since 1998. He previously served as president of the American Society of Missiology (2010- 2011) and as an executive pastor in Australia (1979-90), as well as being involved in short-term theological education in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific since 1984. His publications include co-editing Footprints of God: A Narrative Theology of Mission (MARC 1999), Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Contexts (Orbis Books 2004), and Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity (Orbis Books 2009).

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